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Earth Day events damp, but lively

Author(s): THE DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE Staff Writer   Date: April 25, 2011 Section: Environment
Attendance was low but spirits were high Saturday at two local sustainability fairs celebrating Earth Day and promoting a wide range of environmentally sound products and services. The Northampton and Amherst events were presented in part by WGBY and WRSI 93.9 the River.

In Northampton, despite a soaking rain, the event got off to a celebratory start as the Expandable Brass Band marched from Smith College down Main Street to Pulaski Park, where several vendors representing various businesses and organizations were stationed.

Posters made by local students celebrating Earth Day lined the entrance of the park. From composting toilets and worm composting bins, to information on asthma, recycling, energy consumption and oil-based products, vendors presented a variety of environmentally conscious material to fairgoers.

One group created a towering structure made of 55-gallon drums and all sorts of oil-based products such as plastic toys, containers and cosmetics.

"The idea of the structure is to acknowledge all of the items that we use in our lives that are made from petroleum, and to think about ways that we can eventually come up with alternative solutions to these things," said Molly Hale of Transition Northampton.

Laura Biddulph, representing the Center for Ecological Technology, passed out literature on energy-saving tips and alternative-energy programs. She also discussed a creative program to cut down on the use of paper and plastic bags in Northampton.

"We are circulating a petition to try to get the city of Northampton to become a 'Bring Your Own Bag' shopping district," Biddulph said.

While some people braved the rain in Pulaski Park, others opted to check out a selection of Earth-related films presented by WGBY at the Academy of Music.

"We just showed 'Fixing the Future' by David Brancaccio from NOW on PBS," said event organizer Marie Waechter, director of community engagement at WGBY. "This evening we will be showing 'Carbon Nation.'"

By mid-afternoon people were still out in the rain, dancing on the sidewalk to the upbeat sounds of the band Primate Fiasco.

Waechter said the weather didn't seem to dampen the attitudes of visitors or the event vendors.

"This has been a lot of fun despite the rain," she said. "It really gives us a chance to celebrate our community and to explore all of the environmentally friendly options that are here for us."

She regretted that the weather prevented the arrival of an impressive giant ball made of thousands of single-use plastic bags. The ball was created by Northampton students and was to be eco-chauffeured by Pedal People from Northampton to Amherst, symbolically connecting the two events.

On the Amherst common

Meanwhile, Amherst was celebrating an equally waterlogged Earth Day on the town common. Organizer Stephanie Ciccarello, the energy task force coordinator for the town of Amherst, said this was the second year the festival was held.

"Last year it was sunny, 74 degrees and blue skies, we had over 1,000 people and 80 vendors," she said. "This year a lot of vendors didn't make it because of the weather," Ciccarello said pointing to the empty spaces on the common.

"All the vendors here are very committed," she added.

Though the common was soggy, and rain continued throughout the day, the mood of the few hearty fair-goers was upbeat.

"The spirit of the folks that are out is really positive. We have had lots of good conversations," said Susan Lofthouse of WGBY. "Everybody is really making the best of it. It speaks to the fact that people are concerned about and committed to the issues."

The groups on the common varied from state-run organizations to organic farms.

Environmental Planner Brian Markey with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission passed out literature on Green Communities and other initiatives.

"Our most popular program today has been the Bay State Bike Walk," Markey said. "From May 14 to May 22 we will have 44 events in 13 communities designed to raise awareness about bike transportation and bike safety."

Kate Agin, community outreach representative for the Western Massachusetts Electric Co., provided people with information on the Mass Save fuel assistance programs, energy-efficient light bulbs and other energy saving tips.

"We are here to let people know what is out there and what kind of programs and services are available to them because many people have no idea that they can make use of these real money-saving options," Agin said.

"I have talked with so many people who never needed help before and now, due to the economy, they are in need and we can help ease the financial burden."

Amherst Tree Warden Alan Snow distributed seedlings of sugar maples and Kousa dogwoods, as well as general information on invasive pests that attack and kill a variety of tree species.

While informational tents saw some traffic, the artists and clothing vendors had a less successful day.

Nicole Werth, a Springfield-based artist and member of Artisans of Western Massachusetts, was not thrilled with the turnout or the raw weather but she still greeted visitors with a big smile and a "happy Earth Day!"

"Last year we had a lot of business and this year, well, we have gotten a lot of moral support," said Werth. "One of our members who isn't even at the festival came by to deliver muffins to cheer us up."

When Werth was not under her own tent, she and others could be found in the tent of Solar Stoves of Greenfield warming up near an energy-efficient Thelin Gnome Pellet stove.

Claire Chang, co-owner of Solar Stoves, provided people with information about rebate programs and tax incentives available when purchasing alternative energy products.

"We are trying to help people to be green and save money," said Chang. "We can help people do that with information on state and federal rebates that are really very good.

As the rain drenched folks, two enthusiastic young women danced and splashed in puddles in front of the stage listening to the Boxcar Lilies.

"It's fun," said Sarah Grace Spurgin of Amherst, "So it's raining. The music is good, the puddles are deep."


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